Take a group of around 80 rabbis, cantors, singers, musicians and service leaders. Put them together for a weekend and what do you get? Beautiful music, of course! And that’s just what happened at the inaugural Hava Nashira Jewish Music Conference, held in April in Melbourne.
The participants, who represented Progressive Jewish communities all over Australia and New Zealand, took part in an exciting range of sessions such as folk Shabbat melodies, a drumming workshop, choral leadership and chanting, to name just a few.
The driving force behind the conference was Marshall Voit, Jewish Life Fellow at the Centre for Living Judaism in Melbourne. Having attended similar conferences in the US, Marshall saw the possibilities for this kind of event Down Under. Marshall and his team – Cantor Michel Laloum of TBI, Music Director of North Shore Temple Emanuel Judy Campbell, Jewish Life Fellow Stephanie Gratch, and PJV Project Coordinator Ellen Frajman, among others – were the catalysts for an experience with a spiritual depth and energy that were truly remarkable. Sessions were held at The King David School and Temple Beth Israel, under the auspices of the Union for Progressive Judaism and Progressive Judaism Victoria.
Attendees sang Shabbat prayers set to toe-tapping tunes and accompanied by guitars, ukuleles, drums and saxophone on Friday evening; enjoyed a 40 voice choir at TBI on Shabbat morning; and one undoubted highlight was the Havdalah ceremony on Saturday night. Holding the Havdalah candle high, Cantor Laloum led everyone in single-file through the TBI sanctuary and out into the courtyard as the first stars appeared and the sky darkened. There we prayed, danced and sang in many different languages. As one participant remarked, it was like a Jewish version of a gospel choir.
The conference ended as it began, in song, and with everyone hoping that the next Hava Nashira Jewish Music Conference will be just around the corner.
written by Devorah Komesaroff, Hava Nashira attendee